Götz Friedrich was born on August 4, 1930 in Naumburg, Germany. From 1949 to 1954, he studied drama theory in Weimar. He joined the production team of the Komische Oper in East Berlin in 1953, where he first worked as an assistant director and dramaturg. He later became the research assistant of Walter Felsenstein, the renowned Austrian theatre and opera director who had founded the Komische Oper in 1947, and then served as its superintendent from 1968 to 1972. Friedrich also wrote reviews for the film monthly, Deutsche Filmkunst, from 1957 to 1959. The fairy-tale film Rotkäppchen was his only film production.
Friedrich shot to fame—and notoriety—in 1972 with a controversial staging of ʺTannhauser,ʺ in which Wagner's pious troubadours were presented as jackbooted SS officers, grinding their heels in the face of a disgruntled proletariat. The Bayreuth audience saw this as a Communist version of neo-Nazism.
Friedrich defected to the West while working on a production of Jenůfa in Stockholm later the same year. Once there, he worked as the superintendent and director-in-chief of the Staatsoper Hamburg (1973-1981) and a principal producer at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London (1977-1981). In 1981, he returned to Berlin and became the general manager of the Deutsche Oper Berlin until 2000.
Friedrich, who was especilly known for his productions of Wagner, initiated the founding of The American Berlin Opera Foundation (ABOF), located in New York City, in 1986. Over the course of his career, he worked on over 170 theater productions and was considered by critics to be among the most powerful creative influences in opera in recent times. Friedrich died on December 12, 2000 in Berlin.